Jim Kemp's painting of Brighid was on the altar of the Brighid Festival for several years.
It now presides over our living room.
“Theurgy describes the practice of rituals, sometimes seen as magical in nature, performed with the intention of invoking the action or evoking the presence of one or more deities, especially with the goal of achieving henosis and perfecting oneself.”*
How can dreams contribute to healing… and to one’s creativity? For fifty years, I’ve written down my dreams and pondered their significance in my daily life. Having collected so much material over five decades, I have learned to discriminate and differentiate the kind of dreams, whether useful, garbage, archetypal, or healing. Subjects come and go, connections arise. I don’t know how such clusters occur.
The dreams have their own defined narrative structure that doesn’t necessarily translate into creative work the next day. But in themselves, they are such gifts of a specific, personal creativity that at times can widen to reach other people. The dreams are pointers to dimensions beyond conscious thought.
Because as a poet, I’m always thinking about writing, that concern comes to life nightly. I have cinched some vivid dreams into poems when they feel especially symbolic. But the worried result often feels contrived or too personal a straitjacket, compressing the immensity of the dream experience. The poem is restricted by its fixed visual imperative. For me, sound directs a new poem; sound leads me to the next line. If only I were a painter, like my father. But no, the dream visions are too intense to attempt to replicate directly. They do not lend themselves to such reduction. What can I do to articulate their essence on the page? Perhaps I can invite the appropriate Muse of inspiration to appear, to guide me in understanding and focus. Dreams lead the way.
Two paintings by my father appear in this dream, May 7, 2019: At a family gathering in a farmhouse nestled in a mountain valley. I’m in the bedroom, slow to get up and help mom organize the lunch for all the relatives. Once out in the reception area, I notice that there’s no clutter; everything is organized and ready as the people gather outside.
My friend Al has taken a photo of dad’s painting of the Red Goddess and blown it up the size of the barn wall that it’s now mounted on. Folks here refer to the painting as The Jazz Singer. They’ll roll it up for me to take home but it’s too large to display The Jazz Singer on our walls. Perhaps it should stay here to protect the place. Rain will damage the print, however. Al and I are coming down from the hill toward the farmhouse. We both feel that the location of the house is ill-advised as it’s a collector of heavy energy that has settled, roiling ominously as dark clouds, in the valley. We feel a powerful black wind at our backs, pushing us downward. Although it is consciously evil, I allow the wind to breeze right through me and out the other side: that acceptance seems to change the energy.
Once down the hill and free of that force, I remark on our health. Al and my husband and I have recently avoided death as our prognosis now clears. Al’s partner Mary escaped that direct threat, though she was ill last year. Now we are all free to enjoy the rest of our lives. Al happily announces that he and Mary are about to be married on October 2. “Is there a practical reason for marrying?” I ask. For tax purposes or health insurance? “No,” replies Al. “We’re celebrating our spiritual union.” Glad to attend the wedding, I’ll offer him his choice of dad’s paintings.
A strange but healing dream assuring that we have for now avoided difficult health concerns! My father’s painting usually hangs in our living room, but it has been displayed as Brighid for many years at the annual Brighid Festival in London, Canada. The image is of the Goddess, Brighid, the tripartite solar deity of healing, poetry and fire in Ireland. Her title in the dream is The Jazz Singer, another large painting by dad. It features a Black singer playing the piano at a crowded bar.
Combining these two images, we have the Black Madonna, protectrice of telluric currents. Her statue is often located in a niche half-way up a mountain in Europe. There She looks over the village below. The church votive offerings attest to answered prayers in which She has delivered the place from earthquakes, floods or slides. I’ll keep the characters’ names in the dream as is, since Mary corresponds to the Black Madonna.
After writing up this dream, I pick up Superabundantly Alive: Thomas Merton’s Dance with the Feminine to read this synchronous passage by Susan McCaslin: “Wisdom isn’t simply playing at the foot of the throne as God’s consort but is the Ousia or dark ground of both being and becoming. Beyond even the dualism of being and non-being, she is part of the interplay of eternal consciousness within the self and the natural world. The recovery of the sacred feminine is an essential strand of Merton’s spiritual legacy.” Love that word, Ousia, as it is oozing.
Jennifer White is the harpist at the Brighid Festival, sponsored by The Circle Women's Centre at Brescia University, London, Canada. Above Jennifer you can see Jim’s painting of Brighid. Photo: Kimberly Young Milani
And I return to dream the next night, May 9, 2019: Two women friends my age, one of them Birgitta, have come to visit. As we’re standing in my back garden among the flowering redbuds, I burst into sudden tears, overcome by the extinction of species affected by climate change. I recover almost immediately, but Birgitta questions my upset: I should have more control over my emotions if I am going to take action. We are suddenly aware of a human-size gold statue of Sarasvati next to us. Sarasvati glimmers with light energy though she is immobile. A small red tag hangs from her golden, beautifully sculpted butt cheeks. Not knowing its significance, we grin among ourselves at the implication that this is a menstrual rag for the goddess even as we realize that’s impossible.
Jim Kemp's painting "On the Cliff" features in the Black Madonna dream. Museum London in Ontario owns the piece.
The tag, connecting the goddess to the human woman? A signal to pay attention? It certainly caught the eye! The scarlet letter? A red flag, warning that the earth’s bleeding cannot be sopped up? The blood of the goddess? It felt poignant, like Tara’s tears of compassion for humanity, or Kuan Yin’s. The vibrant colour, as always, implies energy. But is this energy dripping away as waste? Menstruation could mean either release from the fear of pregnancy or dismay that the blood will not succor a child this month. At our advanced age, menstruation is moot! But the symbol remains. Blood is powerful. Blood is life.
I woke, flooded by the dearest apparition of my friend at her most tender and heart-full. She merged, momentarily, with the goddess of compassion: behind her very real presence stood Tara. My anxiety was allayed; I felt safe, comforted and secure. My friend is at once woman and goddess in the dream, just as Brighid is both priestess tending eternal flames and fire deity presiding over poetry in Irish lore. I believe Brighid is the equivalent to the Indian goddess, Sarasvati, patron of the arts, especially music, and wisdom, as my dream has collated. Sarasvati’s body is often portrayed as “coral in colour, like a mass of heaped particles blazing with a radiance wreathed by a thousand rising suns.”**
O Brighid, O golden Sarasvati, O Black Madonna, I invoke you. May you soon return to my dreams, leading the way. Help us to understand what is needed. Direct us to right action. Invest us with heart’s courage, mind’s clarity, body wisdom. Come to life in us; come to live in us.